Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reeser chooses Gioia

"Reeser chooses Gioia" will be the post until after Epiphany, since this is such a busy time of the year...

Poet Jennifer Reeser chooses a poem by Dana Gioia.

About Jennifer Reeser

Jennifer Reeser is the author of two collections, An Alabaster Flask, and Winterproof, and is also creator of the Shakespearean series Sonnets from the Dark Lady. She has contributed poems, scholarly articles and translations of French and Russian literature to such journals as POETRY, The Hudson Review, The Formalist, Light Quarterly and The National Review. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Longman’s An Introduction to Poetry, and Phoenix Rising: The Next Generation of American Formal Poets. She is the former assistant editor to Iambs and Trochees. She is a poetry consultant on faculty at the West Chester Poetry Conference. She lives amid the bayous of southern Louisiana.

About the poem

Noon. It is the strongest, brightest time of day. Artists are advised to examine their subjects in this full spectrum white light, in order that they may clearly see all variegation in temperature and value.  Light from the noonday sun is the hardest light spill possible, the most accurate revealing light source available to the eye.   In this poem, I most appreciate the repetitive, ongoing aspect of perception – the interrogative -- set unexpectedly in the day, as opposed to morose, covert, romantic, deadening night.   However rueful the speaker’s message may be, the manner of his presentation is optimistic. This is (after all) the better man being given life, allowed to speak, the poem taking issue with its message, arguing against itself.  The reader learns that this is the man who is not, and yet here he is, regardless; the very fact of his presence, a positive statement.  The music of stanza three is irresistible, with its caesuras and alliteration, the “spin” of its last inquiry, as it were, spilling over into the unforeseen image of the rose. Horticultural wisdom goes that roses would rather drink than eat.  I find the poem’s fierce vulnerability to be appealing, and its refusal of irony to be a relief.   Its courtly diction overarches, beautifies and mitigates like a garden arbor the choler taking place beneath. As a reader, I feel a sense of inclusion through the speaker’s insistence on meaning. For me, the final line is unforgettable.

The poem


Just before noon I often hear a voice,
Cool and insistent, whispering in my head.
It is the better man I might have been,
Who chronicles the life I've never led.

He cannot understand what grim mistake
Granted me life but left him still unborn.
He views his wayward brother with regret
And hardly bothers to disguise his scorn.

"Who is the person you pretend to be?"
He asks, "The failed saint, the simpering bore,
The pale connoisseur of spent desire,
The half-hearted hermit eyeing the door?

"You cultivate confusion like a rose
In watery lies too weak to be untrue,
And play the minor figures in the pageant,
Extravagant and empty, that is you."

"Interrogations at Noon" reprinted by permission of Dana Gioia.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Owen chooses Frost

Here's what wired.com says about James and this book.

About James A. Owen

James A. Owen is a Merchant Prince, in training to become a Philosopher King. He writes, he draws, and he never leaves skidmarks at the edge of a cliff. In his spare time, he is redesigning an entire town. He is allergic to cats, among other things. And he can do Jeff Bridges' smile from TUCKER with uncanny accuracy.

About the poem

This is my favorite poem because of the last stanza. The rest is just a delivery system to get to those lines, which embody my most passionate goals in life. Work being play for mortal stakes may sum up my life's choices - conscious and otherwise.

The Poem


Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You'd think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
The judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right--agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

--Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Poem in public domain.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stephenson chooses Robertson

About Hannah Stephenson 

Hannah Stephenson is a poet and instructor based in Columbus, Ohio. Recently, her work has appeared in Contrary, Huffington Post, The Nervous Breakdown, MAYDAY, qarrtsiluni, Spoonful, and Fiddleblack. For more of her work, visit her daily poetry site, The Storialist (www.thestorialist.com).

About the poem

I first encountered Robin Robertson’s “New Gravity” in what is arguably the best way to discover new poems we come to fall in love with: in books we select from shelves in bookstores for no reason, when we aren’t looking for anything. I didn’t recognize the poet’s name, but I liked the sound of it, and the look and feel of his narrow, sparse book A Painted Field (and its dark cover showing an enormous expanse of dark sky, and a very thin strip of water).

This poem is the first in the book, and the first that I read. When I bought the book, I put two little dots around the title of this poem in pen, maybe to preemptively help me fish it from my mind.

I’ve returned to it often in the decade since I first read it. It’s only ten lines (and two sentences!), yet I admire how much story and scene Robertson gives us. We know the season (fall, I assume, based on the fallen leaves), the cemetery setting, and the people present.

More than that, the simple earnestness of this poem is staggering. Robertson’s voice is so un-self-conscious and calm here--when I read this poem, I think, “This is the only way the poem could be.” He shows restraint, too--gives us just the right amount of detail. I admire how trusting he was of his own voice in writing this, how certain that this moment mattered and he wanted to give it to us. Sincerity and clarity are powerful tools. I need this reminder.

The poem
New Gravity

Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I’m telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business:
a sister about to be born,
how a life’s new gravity suspends in water.
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree’s jigsaw;
by your father’s grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

Note from Marly:  I have failed in getting in touch with Robin Robertson for a permission, so this one could be temporary--however, I hope that if he finds his way here, he will like finding his words with Hannah's comments about discovering wideness and clarity in ten lines.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Robbins chooses O'Siochain

About Philippa Robbins

I was born in London in 1964. I am a painter and live and work in Wales.  My work is figurative. I'm working on still-lifes and landscape at the moment and am artist in residence on an architectural project in West Wales.
My website is www.philipparobbins.com and recently finished work and work in progress can also been seen on http://www.flickr.com/photos/philsr/.

About the poem

This is a poem written by Ruary O'Siochain and I first heard it, read by him, at his marriage last year to Kathrin.  It tells of their re-meeting early in their relationship after a  short spell of having not seen each other, neither of them certain that the other was still feeling the same as they had those few weeks earlier.

I find the poem has a quality to it like a classic old film--immediately familiar and unelaborate with separate focus on each little scene skirting the asking of the question. It's beautifully poignant and romantic, reserved and, in the telling, complete.

The poem


Later I drank
the most beautiful
Old Speckled Hen.

It was early May
in the Sunday park.
The east wind
kept isolate people
all moving
in the bright sunshine.

The tree we lay under 
was full of fresh leaves.
How many greens?
we asked, 
shimmering emerald
dancing to the brush
of a squirrel’s tail.

Winter is always long
and hard.
The deep barrier blue
now in place
above us, and you asked -
“Are we still all right,

 --Ruary O'Siochain

By permission of the poet

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Digby chooses Hopkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins earned the honor of being first because he was so wonderfully quick in response, but as it seemed a little self-serving to make one of my own poems go first, I have delayed him and begin with the myriad-minded Paul Digby. Every post at The Lydian Stones will contain three sections: a short biography of a featured artist, along with a picture of some kind; his or her commentary on a favorite poem as well as links to further work or information about the poet; the chosen poem. This post contains a little celebratory extra, a piece of Paul Digby's music.

About Paul Digby

A biography is rather difficult for me to write.  I enjoy many aspects of creative work and dabble in musical composition, painting (figurative/portraiture), light poetry, pottery, life drawing, and much else.  I studied composition as a teenager but decided upon a hiatus from that when in my early twenties.  Over the past ten years I have slowly returned to it because I can now write orchestral and choral work using sampled instruments and voices.  There is a very steep learning curve to the process of scoring an orchestral work, but I am tenacious by nature and rather stubborn about the whole thing.  In the past I wrote much piano music (my first instrument) but found that unsatisfactory.  I have recently taken up oil painting, and find this to be a rich experience for me, and one that goes hand-in-hand with musical composition work.  I both paint and write music to express the same ideas at the same time.  Communicating ideas in this way keeps me sane.

Without this, I would simply talk an awful lot.


When writing this music recently--as part of an art show experience --I attempted to express both ethereal and earthy immediacy within the work.

The piece explores the idea of the “ascension of us all”--and also, what we would wish to ascend from.  The boy solo calls to us throughout.

About the poem

I was first introduced to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins while still at school and studying toward my 'A' level in English Literature.  I must have been fifteen or sixteen at the time.  It was the work of this poet that woke me up to the beauty of the sound of poetry.  I realized then that words held meanings that sometimes became more powerful when put out into the air, as music.  For me, poetry is spoken music.  Poetry has rhythm, texture, and tonally modulating qualities that arrest my attention.  It was this realization that woke me up to poetry and I have been awake to it ever since.

Gerard Manley Hopkins' work displays a very strong Christian faith, and although I am an atheist, essentially, I find beauty and integrity in his work and admire his faith and his appreciation of beauty in this world.

I have been reading his poetry for nearly forty years now, and his poetry remains as fresh and wonderful to me as it was the first time I read him.

“Pied Beauty” expresses so much that I love about life.  There is also an acceptance of mystery “(who knows how?)” that I find appealing for its simplicity.

To read this poem is a joy.  To read this poem aloud, well . . . that pushes something beautiful out into the world.

The poem


GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)

Poem in public domain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Stones and poetry book in Marly's writing room.
THE LYDIAN STONES will begin on my birthday and is meant as a gift to readers and those who love all branches of the arts. Please e-follow or plan to visit on the 22nd, when the first pebble will be tossed onto the site of a future cairn made up of many stones, bright or dark, memorials and markers of encounters with beauty and shapeliness.

Future posts will appear on Tuesdays as well... I am mulling which one to post first. Not the one somebody did relating to me--that would be immodest, even on a birthday. Maybe one that has music and poetry. Always good to have a little music on one's natal day.